Me, Me, Me

Came across a lovely passage by Clarice Lispector on the divisions within ourselves: “…she really had split into two, each part facing the other, watching her, wishing for things that the other could no longer give. In truth she had always been two, the one that had a slight idea that she was and the other that actually was, profoundly. It was just that until then the two of them had worked together and couldn’t be told apart.” Near to the Wild Heart, Clarice Lispector.

Two. How could she only be two? I, like Walt Whitman, contain multitudes. I am many. I am two, three, four, five, six. Me, me, me, and then some. They say reading fiction gives an insight into other peoples’ heads, an opportunity to examine viewpoints alien to your own. Ha! I only need to read over my old journals to have me wonder: Who is that woman? She’s so grumpy, judgemental, funny, boring, thoughtful, perspicacious, thick, gloomy, lazy, energic, muddled. All those bits of ourselves that come to visit then take off and we forget they are part of us, I have recorded them, I can pick up the lost shards of me. 

Then there are the parts of ourselves we deliberately hold back on sharing. Not long ago I was talking to a friend about dating. ‘It requires you to figure out who you are all over again,’ I told her. Then, pausing and reflecting, I qualified what I’d said. ‘Maybe not who you are, but which version of yourself you are willing to reveal.’ It takes time to reveal all our faces to someone; only in the deepest relationships does one person see all of the other person, and even then, is there not a part of us so private that it is never pulled out from the dark?

The protagonist in Old School, by Tobias Wolff (I urge you to read it some day), shares a room at his boarding school with Bill. About their relationship, he says this: “We had made ourselves unknowable behind our airs and sardonic courtesies, the one important truth I’d discovered about him we’d silently agreed never to acknowledge. Many such agreements had evolved between us. No acknowledgement of who we really were––of trouble, or weakness, or doubt–––of our worries about the life ahead and the sort of men we were becoming. Never; not a word. We’d kept everything witty and cool, until the air between us was so ironized that to say anything in earnest would have been a breach of manners, even of trust.” That feels very true of my teenage years. And of my twenties. Even into my thirties. Wolff nails it when he speaks of it as a sort of trust, a trust not to breach the code of maintaining a certain safe superficiality, a trust that you cannot trust even the most intimate of friends (a roommate) with any inner thoughts, inner life, any version of you that might be overly authentic. The unspoken trust not to trust.

I don’t think I was very sure who the authentic version of me was when I started out at university, when I began sharing space with persons other than my family. That was one big scary exploration into wondering how everyone else could step into student life so assuredly, swagger into a lecture theatre, seat themselves beside a stranger in the Students’ Union, open a conversation. I could do none of it. I was neither witty nor cool, as Wolff puts it, but so many of those around me were, one of whom I met recently, and thirty years on she is still the same version of witty and cool, which I was certain was a mask back then, but perhaps she knew who she was all along.

Seems to me, most teenagers are still working themselves out. A while back, a friend told me she always gets the impression that her daughter is playing at being a version of herself; that her persona is so watchful she seems to almost hover over herself, honing her personality, consciously shaping who she is in every encounter, minding and herding herself through conversations. I thought it preceptive of my friend to see it and name it. I watched and noticed it too, a mildly disconcerting characteristic in one so young, but this self-awareness also gives her the appearance of one who is much older. Young people speak without thinking, they rush in, try things out before they have thought them through. Not this girl. I wonder will she turn into Klaus? “Klaus’s charm, at least for me, was that his voice already sounded like an imitation of itself; Klaus was an actor bemused to be playing Klaus.” (from The Topeka School, Ben Lerner). Klaus, one of my favourite characters in this book, seems highly aware there are segments of himself to choose from, roles he can enact, adapt, change. That one can knowingly play a version of oneself I find charming, it’s a measure of self-awareness, of self-watchfulness, which is different to being on one’s guard.

Me, me, me. I am a fusion of contradictions. I am a different person week to week, place to place. Last week: I am a tourist passing through. I am excited to be somewhere different. I am vibrant. I am filled with possibility. This week: I am an old friend. I am comfortable catching up on news. I am excitedly over-doing with the loud talk because I am so happy to see my old friends. Next week: I am triggered by the past. I feel like an awkward add-on. I am self-questioning and insecure. I have made a mistake in coming.

Would the next me please step forward.

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